Kluane National Park in the Yukon is a massive 5.44 million acres of mountains and ice, which make up 82% of the park’s surface area. Kluane National Park and Reserve, together with Tatshenshini-Alsek Wilderness Park, Glacier Bay National Park, and Wrangell-St. Elias National Park (the latter two in Alaska), form a joint UNESCO World Heritage Site. At over 32 million acres, this is the largest contiguous protected land area in the world.
The Alaska Highway travels along the eastern edge of Kluane National Park. Shadowing the highway almost the entire way is Kluane Range, a long line of 8,000+ foot snow-capped peaks. Behind the Kluane Range (and not visible from the highway) are the St. Elias Mountains, Canada’s highest. These include Mount Logan, which at 19,545 feet elevation is the highest mountain in Canada and the second highest in North America. A multi-day backpacking hike or plane ride is required to see the St. Elias Mountains.
Most of the interesting hikes in Kluane National Park involve significant elevation gain. That’s the nature of a park dominated by mountains. On our first day, we hiked to the King’s Throne, a cirque tucked in the bowl of a mountain, as shown above. It’s a difficult 1,800-foot climb up scree-covered slopes above Kathleen Lake (scree is loose, broken rock that’s very difficult to hike across).
Notice how the mountains rise almost straight up from the shores of Kathleen Lake, which contained this small island.
Part of the trail to the King’s Throne was still obscured by snow. We had to take care while crossing these snow patches, because one slip and we’d slide hundreds of feet down the side of the mountain. While we were on the mountain, it started to snow… in mid-June.
After a very challenging climb, we were rewarded with great views of Kathleen Lake. Click on the photo above for a larger panorama.
Prairie Crocus is arguably the most popular Yukon flower, as its emergence in early May indicates spring’s arrival. The entire surface of the plant is covered with fuzzy white hairs, which are essential to keeping the flower warm in the chilly Yukon spring. Insects often take refuge in the flowers, where it can be 15-20 degrees warmer than the surrounding air.
Our second hike in Kluane was even more challenging than the first and perhaps one of the steepest trails we’ve ever hiked, with a 1,500-foot elevation gain in less than a mile. But we were rewarded with spectacular views of Kluane Lake the entire way. Here you can see Theresa slogging up the side of a steep hill. It may seem counterintuitive, but on a trail this steep, hiking down is even harder on the body and especially the knees than hiking up.
Here you can see the Slims River delta (on the right) that feeds Kluane Lake (on the left). About 400 years ago, Slims River used to be the drainage for Kluane Lake. But the Kaskawulsh Glacier advanced across Slims River and blocked the drainage, causing the lake level to rise more than 30 feet, and cutting a new exit channel at the north end of the lake. So instead of draining only 140 miles out Slims River to the Pacific Ocean, Kluane Lake now drains nearly 1,500 miles north to the Bering Sea.
Kluane Lake is the largest lake in the Yukon, covering nearly 154 square miles or 100,000 acres. We climbed about 1,500 feet up Tachal Dhal ridge and enjoyed our lunch with a panoramic view of Kluane Lake.
Even from our high vantage point, we couldn’t see the north end of Kluane Lake, nearly 50 miles away.